Every relationship requires attention and maintenance, even our relationship with God. Let’s look at the challenges, obstacles and opportunities so that we will not be caught off-guard. In the book of Revelation, Jesus Christ writes letters to seven different churches. We are going to look at Revelation 2:1-7 which is addressed to the church at Ephesus. Each of the letters serves as an evaluation of where the church is in regard to its relationship with Christ. Ephesus was an important center of commerce and was known for its luxury and its immorality. Ephesus was the location of the temple to the goddess Diana which was considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Ephesus was a cosmopolitan city full of the world’s evils and vices and this challenged the followers of Christ.
One way of looking at this letter is as a report card. Jesus is evaluating the state of spiritual life and relationship with him. Jesus begins by telling them that he has seen their hard work (v.2). They were diligent, they were not looking for someone else to do their work for them. But they labored on conscientiously with great dedication and effort. Their hard work was a credit to them. In Hebrews 6:10 we read. "God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them." The Ephesians got an “A” for working hard.
In addition to their hard work, they were commended for their adherence to sound teaching because they would not tolerate false teachers. This indicates that the Ephesian church had a solid foundation and was thoroughly grounded in the Scriptures. They possessed spiritual discernment enabling them to detect between truth and error. This speaks well of the training and leadership that they received in the beginning. It is not always easy to detect false teachers, because many times there can be a great deal of truth with only a little poison mixed in. Once again, they get an “A” for rejecting false teachers.
Thirdly, they endured hardships; they persevered and did not grow weary. There were no laws protecting religious liberty. If you did not conform to the culture, you would be ostracized and rejected. It would be difficult to find employment or engage in commerce with outsiders. There was the inevitable physical suffering and persecution that many early believers endured. The church was still in its early days, and Satan was doing everything that he could do to discourage and suppress the truth of the gospel, but they endured all of these hardships, and they did not grow weary, and they persevered. They receive in “A” for enduring hardship.
In verse 4 that we see the first hint of trouble for the Ephesians. Jesus says, "Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love." How can this be? Up until this point they were receiving straight A's on their report card. Ephesus was fundamentally sound and diligent in service, but yet it was not enough. Three “A’s” and an “F” result in an “F” average. That is because love is weighted more heavily than everything else. Listen to what Paul said to the Corinthians. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (NIV)
Beginning in verse 5 Jesus gives the steps for restoring a vital love relationship with him. "Remember the height from which you have fallen!" Self-examination is needed to track our progress. We should always be aiming to grow closer to him, but it doesn't happen without effort and determination. Paul spent several years with the Ephesians, and gave them a good foundation and a good beginning, but now they had lost their way.
Next, Jesus instructs the Ephesians to repent. These days, some think repentance is outdated or no longer relevant. To repent, simply means to turn around and change direction. If you are heading on a path that leads away from God, you change your direction and head toward God. Paul spoke of a sorrow that leads to repentance. “It was the kind of sorrow God wants his people to have, so you were not harmed by us in any way. For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death.” 2 Corinthians 7:9b-10 (NLT)
Finally, Jesus says, "Do the things you did it first." When we came to Lord, we had previously attempted to live life on our terms. We finally came to the awareness that He was the way to life and we gave ourselves over to him completely. We need to be reminded that there is no one like our God and that we have no one else who can meet our needs and rescue us. “Whom have I in heaven but you? I desire you more than anything on earth. My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever.” Psalm 73:25-26 (NLT)